“Much of your strength as a woman can come from the resolve to replenish and fill your own well and essence first, before taking care of others.”
~ Miranda J. Barrett, A Woman’s Truth: A Life Truly Worth Living
Along those same lines, it is also too easy to neglect your physical health when you are concentrating on sobriety and still trying to handle everything else in your life. When you are stressed and overwhelmed, you don’t get enough rest, you forget to exercise, and your diet is an unhealthy combination of junk and fast food.
Early in recovery, you are taught to never to let yourself get “too hungry” or “too tired”. This is with good reason.
When you are not eating right, it is hard for your newly-sober brain to tell the difference between hunger pangs and cravings for drugs and alcohol. And if you mistake one for the other, you can actually trigger strong cravings that put you at increased risk of relapse.
It is also necessary to avoid any foods made with alcohol because even trace amounts can trigger a strong reaction in your still-vulnerable brain. This could include many sauces, wine vinegars, beer bread and beer-battered fried foods, and even certain desserts.
To prevent this:
- Be aware – Learn to recognize pangs as hunger, instead of cravings.
- Always eat breakfast – Eating every morning “reprograms” your body so it expects nourishment at the beginning of the day.
- Keep healthy snacks and drinks handy –This is absolutely necessary. Nuts, fruits, yogurt, and granola bars are all convenient, quick, and healthy sources of energy.
- Plan for the day – When you are trying to accommodate your busy schedule, it only makes good sense to have a plan in place, so you can eat healthy and avoid temptation.
Finally, good nutrition during recovery helps repair much of the physical damage caused by excessive drinking and drug abuse.
Just as importantly, when you don’t get enough rest, your judgment and impulse control are both impaired. In this state, you are much more likely to give in to cravings or temptation. Poor quality sleep has also been linked to both anxiety and depression, each of which can contribute to substance abuse.
Insomnia is one of the top complaints made by people in recovery, and if not taken care of, it puts your long-term sobriety in jeopardy. 60% of alcoholics with chronic, untreated insomnia will relapse within five years.
There’s one important caveat – if you have a history of substance abuse, you should avoid sleeping pills, which can themselves be extremely habit-forming. Of special relevance, 5% of women use sedating sleep aids, compared to just 3% of men.
Physical activity can help with a number of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and addiction. In fact, strenuous exercise has been shown to protect the brain before, during, and after substance abuse.
What are some of the ways and exercise can help?
- Exercise stimulates the appetite.
- Even just 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can improve the quality of your sleep.
- Exercise activates the brain’s reward/pleasure centers, similarly to alcohol and drugs. This makes physical activity an effective and safe substitute for mood-altering substances.
- Exercise is an excellent means of reducing stress.